Wearable Fitness Trackers are becoming increasingly popular, as health-conscious consumers look to them for motivation to improve their lifestyles. I do want to stress that this post is based on my own opinions from personal experience with these types of devices and factual tested data. There is some good research that suggests that tracking helps people reach their goals, particularly when they’re trying to make changes to their lifestyle. For example, pedometers do help people be more active. And writing down everything you eat does make it more likely that you won’t overeat.
There are many types of wearables with different capabilities. Most of them count steps, track distance traveled, show you calories burned, measure sleep quality, and sync this data to an app on your phone that presents the information in a way that’s easy to read. The more “advanced” (expensive) devices can track heart rate. Even more high-caliber trackers have GPS that use satellite to track your location and altitude.
If you spend most of your day sitting down at a desk job or in school, eating a lot of takeout, and hardly ever working out, then challenging yourself to 10,000 steps a day (the standard goal for most trackers) could be a good way to make a difference!
But steps alone won’t improve your overall, long-term fitness. You need to look at other aspects of your life, too(sleep, diet, and workout regimen.) Most trackers measure sleep quality (living a healthy life means making sure you’re getting enough rest) and have food-logging features in their apps. (Jawbone, Fitbit, and Basis all do.)
Are they Accurate?
The answer is, it’s complicated. There are so many variables that contribute to this. To ensure the best chance of your device correctly tracking your workouts, ensure it is securely on and tight enough that it is nice and snug on your skin. Especially the devices that track heart rate. For those worn on your wrist, they should be worn a little higher on your wrist and can be worn on either the inside or outside of the wrist. Most fitness trackers, if worn correctly, track exercise calories burned within 10% accuracy (not bad.) But they don’t only track your workouts, they also track sleep and inactive hours. I’ll list some with my own findings.
Do you really need one?
I have mixed feelings about this one. I really feel like you can maximize your results by analyzing the data that these devices provide. Knowing your body (is in my opinion) one of the most important parts of your physical fitness. Knowing things like your heart rate and calorie burning zones can help you target those zones to maximize fat burning. If you know your specific zones, you can also target them when training for a specific event like a marathon or triathlon. This is also very much dependent on the accuracy of the device that you use.
The other upside (besides the raw data) is the motivation they provide. Challenges among peers, or achievement badges (that are rewarded upon completion of steps, calories, meals logged etc.), provide motivation to those working to live a healthier lifestyle. This provides a “fun” competitive level, and keeps people engaged. This has been proven to increase activity levels of the people who use them.
I want to make this completely clear. You don’t need one of these devices to be successful and hit your health and fitness goals. If your diet and activity levels are on point, you won’t have trouble getting to where you want to be. Some people (myself included) rely too much on the information given by these trackers as if they are totally accurate and 100% reliable.
As an example: If I am trying to maintain my weight and I see that my tracker says I have burned 2500 calories today, I should theoretically eat exactly that many calories. But due to the inaccuracy of said devices that aren’t generally worn 24/7, going based on this data can throw off your balance.
I also feel like (and this may just be me) working out can be fun. When I work out, I enjoy talking to my fellow boot campers. I love a good weight challenge. Constantly obsessing over your heart rate or calories can really distract you and take that “fun” aspect away. I have to remind myself to enjoy my workout, rather than being overly concerned with how many calories I’m burning, and where my heart rate is. Part of what makes me keep coming back is that social factor. Having a partner to suffer through mountain climbers or the retched bosu balls really makes the experience worth it.
Devices I Have Used
Fitbit/Jawbone $99-$250 : (Both were on par with each other in most aspects from my experience) – These devices have evolved from being glorified pedometers to full featured trackers. They were good for mapping and breaking down statistics for a run or any gps tracked workouts. The fitbit service is great for challenging friends, but is limited to step competitions. Steps isn’t activity in my mind. They were both consistent in overestimating my non-active caloric burn and steps taken. This was a problem for me because I was basing my caloric intake on my activities and found myself overeating (a great example of overly relying on these devices.)
Microsoft Band $150 : This device is one of my personal favorites. One thing I found with this device is that it gives you a lot of raw data that is amazing if you really dive into it, and you can really maximize your training plans. I found this heart rate based device to be the most accurate at consistently measuring both active and inactive activity (including sleep). After many tests comparing the results of this tracker to the chest strap based heart monitors (the gold standard of monitors), this one proved to be the most accurate in almost every case. So far it is the only wrist worn monitor that accurately tracked my POP workouts. It is great for notifying you of inactivity, too. It will let you know when you need to get off your butt, and you can even set the frequency of the notifications (more or less annoying). My only issue with this device is the lack of support for third parties.
Apple Watch $299.99+ : The Apple Watch excels in 3rd party integration. Everything from Nike services, to Apple’s own services. This one has been a bit inconsistent as far as its accuracy though, but I have a couple of tips here. Overall, they are great for both active and non-active activity tracking. This device doesn’t focus on steps at all like some of the others. In fact you can’t see your steps on the watch itself. Instead it focuses on daily expenditure and active minutes. Where the device really fails is in my POP workouts (better if worn on the inside of your wrist in these workouts.) In workouts where I strain my wrist (which is pretty much anytime that I am lifting a weight) results in under estimating my POP workout caloric burn. It does excel in other aspects though. This device is amazing for cardo intensive exercise such as running, non-wrist straining workouts (I couldn’t think of a better way to put this…lol), and swimming (series 2 only for swimming.) This device has a 99% accuracy for calorie burn with these types of exercises. The watch also gives you notifications of friends activities, so you know when they complete a workout or get an achievement. It also gives you the option to congratulate them on their achievement. This is an amazing way to motivate not only yourself, but your peers. Besides for the inaccuracy of the heart rate tracker during POP workouts, the other downside to this one is lack of sleep tracking abilities. Due to battery life limitations, Apple recommends charging the watch at night.
Scosche $79.99 : These are some of the most underrated heart rate trackers (just my opinion.) These devices have the all around accuracy of a chest strap, but is worn on your arm. It can be paired with not only your phone, but the apple watch itself. So you get all of the great features of the watch without the inaccuracy of the tracker during weight training. A downside is it only tracks during your workout (and leaves a goofy tan line you’re outdoors).
There are other devices out there, but I didn’t want to comment on ones that I have not personally used.